Debunking the Myths- Christmas Traditions

10 January 2009

In the first article of this two-part series on Debunking the Myths of Christmas we addressed the origins of Christmas itself.  This second article is dedicated to examining the origins of many of the traditional trappings of Christmas.

Part 2: Where do the traditional trappings of Christmas come from?

Christmas trees

Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion  to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn  with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree  for the birds during Christmastime; it survived further in the custom, also  observed in Germany, of placing a Yule tree at an entrance or inside the house  during the midwinter holidays.

Encyclopedia Brittanica on Christmas trees

Yule logs

The Yule log, cakes, and fir trees derive from German and Celtic customs.

Yule may have derived from the Germanic jol or the Anglo-Saxon geol, which referred to the feast of the winter solstice.

Encyclopedia Brittanica on Christmas


While not known for sure, some sources hold that the pagan Romans sent holly  branches as a sign of good wishes at the time of the new year festivals.

Catholic Education Resource Center

Pagans had customarily decorated in winter with evergreens culled from the  landscape long before the birth of Christianity. We can still identify with  their thought-process, even today: when everything else on the landscape is dead  or dormant, evergreens remind us of better times to come -- the return of a  green landscape in spring. Landscaping


An ancient Norse legend relates that Freya, the goddess of love, placed  mistletoe in a tree between Heaven and earth, and decided that people who pass  underneath it should kiss.

Catholic Education Resource Center

Santa Claus

(flourished 4th century, Myra, Lycia, Asia Minor; feast day December 6) Minor saint associated with Christmas. Probably bishop of Myra, he is reputed to have provided dowries for three poor girls to save them from prostitution and to have restored to life three children who had been chopped up by a butcher. He became the patron saint of Russia and Greece, of charitable fraternities and guilds, and of children, sailors, unmarried  girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers. After the Reformation his cult disappeared in  all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holland, where he was known as Sinterklaas. Dutch colonists brought the tradition to New Amsterdam (now New  York City), and English-speaking Americans adopted him as Santa Claus, who is  believed to live at the North Pole and to bring gifts to children at Christmas.

Encyclopedia Brittanica on Saint Nicholas

Gift giving

But some may think that gift-giving is Scriptural—as it began with the wise men.

In actual fact, the wise men did not present gifts to Christ because it was  his birthday. Rather, they came to present gifts to a King. People from  the east never approached the presence of a king without a gift (Clark's  Commentary, vol. 5, p. 46).  Nowhere in Scripture is there an endorsement to  celebrate Christ's birth.

Popular Religious Holidays: Where They Really Came From, The Real Truth Magazine (March 8,2004)

Last modified on 24 January 2015

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